Chantal Baros Wilson is the creator of Shining Light Dolls. A new mother herself, Baros Wilson created the collectible dolls in the image of saints so that children will have beautiful toys with a contemporary aesthetic and meaningful message. She is pictured on June 19 with samples of her dolls and holy cards. (Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
(Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
When Chantal Baros Wilson wanted a modern, affordable Catholic toy for her nephews she found slim pickings in the marketplace. The nice toys were either very expensive or had outdated religious imagery. Instead of lamenting the situation, she created her own Catholic toys and Shining Light Dolls were born.
She began by creating dolls based upon images of Mary — Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Knock and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The first doll, Our Lady of Guadalupe, hit the market more than a year ago and remains the best seller. She plans to release 11 Marys in all.
The dolls are made out of rotocast vinyl, stand about three and a half inches tall and come with an insert featuring a biography of the Mary or saint along with a prayer and other information. Last fall and winter she added St. Nicholas and St. Patrick. Our Lady of Fatima is in production and will be available soon and there are plans for other saints such as Padre Pio, St. Joseph and St. Therese of Lisieux.
All of the dolls have been safety tested for children zero and up.
Relevant to kids
The 27-year-old said that she wanted to make a toy that was affordable at $12.99 and that would meet children where they were at.
“That was my thinking, that I really want to be able to give my nephews something that they’d be interested in and that would hold their attention but that they would ask me questions about,” she said.
Toys can be a way to teach children about the faith.
“I do think it opens the door and gives children a love for something from a very young age because I think we can all remember our favorite toys when we were little,” she said. “They get a special place in our heart.”
Baros Wilson graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she trained as an oil painter, and had to learn everything about making dolls from the ground up.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m an oil painter. I had no experience with toy making,” she said.
But she did have experience blending her faith and her art.
“I just love everything about Catholicism so I just always look for ways to incorporate my faith into my art,” said Baros Wilson, who lives in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Since she had no toy-making experience, the young mother of one felt that God was really leading her along the way.
When she got the idea for the dolls she had to teach herself how to use the graphic design programs to create them. Next, she had to find a factory to make them.
“As I’ve gone along I’ve Googled the things I needed to do next,” she said.
Baros Wilson found a factory in China to produce the dolls, inserts and packaging. There are very few places in the United States that produce the type of dolls she is making and to keep the price of the dolls affordable she had to look outside the U.S.
It’s all done online. She sends them the designs, they carve it out of wax, cast it and paint it and send her a prototype to approve. She also designed the inserts and packaging.
“It’s really been fun,” she said.
To make her dream come true, a family member loaned Baros Wilson $50,000 to start Shining Light Dolls. Each prototype costs about $1,500. She orders 5,000 dolls at a time, which costs between $6,000 and $8,000. Shipping costs a few thousand dollars per doll.
“We’re continuing to release as we go,” she said. “That’s been our number one complaint, that people can’t buy all of them right away.”
Baros Wilson’s husband, Kirk, also helps with Shining Light Dolls when he’s not busy with his retail management job. He thought the dolls were a good idea from the start.
“I felt like it was a niche market but I think it is one that needed to be filled,” said Kirk Wilson, 30. “We’ve seen such a good response to it. Even people who aren’t looking for it, they’re like ‘Ah, perfect. I know where I can use this.’”
In the year and a half since she started her company, Baros Wilson has sold more than 5,000 dolls and recouped the initial investment.
Amazon.com, the Catholic Company.com and more than 100 Catholic shops in the United States and Canada sell the Shining Light Dolls. Ten percent of all profits go to different Catholic charitable organizations.
Baros Wilson has taken great care with the designs so that the graphics are true to the original imagery.
“We’re not trying to do anything that’s disrespectful or that’s not authentic to the teachings of the church. All the prayers, all of the stories, I make sure everything is in line with the magisterium,” Baros Wilson said.
Even the Marian apparitions she’s chosen for her Mary dolls are ones approved by the church.
“We wanted to make something that was a high-quality product that a kid or someone would appreciate,” she said. “We believe that the most important thing is evangelizing kids. So you gotta meet them where they’re at.”
The one-piece dolls don’t break and are easy to clean, which is good for moms.
“I also wanted it to be a silent toy. We have a lot of moms who take it with their kids to church,” she said. “It doesn’t make any noise. Nothing falls off and it doesn’t break.”
She hopes to one day get her dolls into secular mainstream stores.
“I love the little Catholic bookstores and I really want to see them succeed but I also want to meet people where they are shopping and get the Catholic products back in there and make it okay to buy Catholic products and make it cool,” she said.
Baros Wilson also sells prayer cards of the different saints and has launched two apps for children — the Virgin Mary Around the World Coloring Book and the Catholic Saints Coloring Book.
But it’s not just kids who are buying the dolls. Baros Wilson says many people have used the dolls for hospital gifts, for people who are sick or just to display them at home or on their desk at work.
Because the dolls don’t look “religiony,” as she calls them, they are a good way to open discussions about the faith in the family.
“I think that it’s the perfect answer to the new evangelization,” she said.